Make It Scream, Make It Burn



By Leslie Jamison

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From the "astounding" (Entertainment Weekly), "spectacularly evocative" (The Atlantic), and "brilliant" (Los Angeles Times) author of the New York Times bestsellers The Recovering and The Empathy Exams comes a return to the essay form in this expansive book.

With the virtuosic synthesis of memoir, criticism, and journalism for which Leslie Jamison has been so widely acclaimed, the fourteen essays in Make It Scream, Make It Burn explore the oceanic depths of longing and the reverberations of obsession.

Among Jamison's subjects are 52 Blue, deemed "the loneliest whale in the world"; the eerie past-life memories of children; the devoted citizens of an online world called Second Life; the haunted landscape of the Sri Lankan Civil War; and an entire museum dedicated to the relics of broken relationships. Jamison follows these examinations to more personal reckonings — with elusive men and ruptured romances, with marriage and maternity — in essays about eloping in Las Vegas, becoming a stepmother, and giving birth.

Often compared to Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, and widely considered one of the defining voices of her generation, Jamison interrogates her own life with the same nuance and rigor she brings to her subjects. The result is a provocative reminder of the joy and sustenance that can be found in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
One of the fall's most anticipated books: Time, Entertainment Weekly, O, Oprah Magazine, Boston Globe, Newsweek, Esquire, Seattle Times, Baltimore Sun, BuzzFeed, BookPage, The Millions, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Lit Hub, Women's Day, AV Club, Nylon, Bustle, Goop, Goodreads, Book Riot, Yahoo! Lifestyle, Pacific Standard, The Week, and Romper.


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When do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it?

—Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

—  I  —


52 Blue

December 7, 1992. Whidbey Island, Puget Sound. The world wars were over. The other wars were over: Korea, Vietnam. The Cold War was finally over, too. The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station remained. So did the Pacific, its waters vast and fathomless beyond an airfield named for an airman whose body was never found: William Ault, who died in the Battle of the Coral Sea. This is how it goes. The ocean swallows human bodies whole and makes them immortal. William Ault became a runway that sends other men into the sky.

At the Naval Air Station, the infinite Pacific appeared as finite data gathered by a network of hydrophones spread along the ocean floor. Initially used to monitor Soviet subs during the Cold War, these hydrophones had since been turned toward the sea itself, transforming its formless noises into something measurable: pages of printed graphs rolling out of a spectrograph machine.

On that particular December day in 1992, petty officer second class Velma Ronquille heard a strange sound. She stretched it out on a different spectrogram so she could see it better. She couldn’t quite believe that it was coming in at 52 hertz. She beckoned one of the audio technicians. He needed to come back, she said. He needed to take another look. The technician came back. He took another look. His name was Joe George. Velma told him, “I think this is a whale.”

Joe thought, Holy cow. It hardly seemed possible. The sound pattern looked like the call of a blue whale, but blue whales usually came in somewhere between 15 and 20 hertz—an almost imperceptible rumble, on the periphery of what the human ear can detect. Fifty-two hertz was off the charts. But here it was, right in front of them, the audio signature of a creature moving through Pacific waters with a singularly high-pitched song.

Whales make calls for a number of reasons: to navigate, to find food, to communicate with one another. For certain whales, including humpbacks and blues, songs also play a role in sexual selection. Blue males sing louder than females, and the volume of their singing—at more than 180 decibels—makes them the loudest animals in the world. They click and grunt and trill and hum and moan. They sound like foghorns. Their calls can travel thousands of miles through the ocean.

Because this whale’s frequency was unprecedented, the folks at Whidbey kept tracking him for years, every migration season, as he made his way south from Alaska to Mexico. They figured it was a he, as only males sing during mating season. His path wasn’t unusual, only his song—along with the fact that they never detected any other whales around him. He always seemed to be alone. This whale was calling out high, and apparently to no one—or at least, no one seemed to be answering. The acoustic technicians called him 52 Blue. A scientific report would eventually acknowledge that no other whale calls with similar characteristics had ever been reported. “It is perhaps difficult to accept,” the report conceded, that “there could have been only one of this kind in this large oceanic expanse.”


The drive from Seattle to Whidbey Island took me through the plainspoken pageantry of Washington State industry: massive stacks of cut lumber, rivers clogged with tree trunks like fish trapped in pens, towers of candy-colored shipping containers near Skagit port, and a collection of dirty white silos near Deception Pass Bridge, its steel span looming majestically over Puget Sound—hard-sparkling water glinting with shards of sunlight nearly two hundred feet below. On the far side of the bridge, the island felt pastoral and otherworldly, almost defensive. LITTER AND IT WILL HURT, one sign read. Another said, SPACE HEATERS NEED SPACE. Whidbey Island often calls itself the longest island in America, but this isn’t strictly true. “Whidbey is long,” the Seattle Times observed in 2000, “but let’s not stretch it.” It’s long enough to hold a kite festival, a mussel festival, an annual bike race (the Tour de Whidbey), four inland lakes, and a yearly murder-mystery game that turns the entire town of Langley, population 1,035, into a crime scene.

Joe George, the technician who first identified 52 Blue, still lives in a modest hillside home perched on the northern end of Whidbey, about six miles from the air station. When I visited, he answered the door smiling—a burly man with silver hair, no-nonsense but friendly. Though he hadn’t worked at the air station for twenty years, he was still able to get us past security with his Navy ID. He told me he uses it whenever he comes back to the base to drop off his recycling. Outside the officers’ club, men in flight suits were drinking cocktails on a wooden deck. The coastline was ragged and beautiful beyond—waves crashing onto dark sand, salt wind moving through the evergreens.

Joe explained that when he worked at the air station, his team—the team responsible for processing audio data from the hydrophones—was fairly disconnected from the rest of the base. It was a question of security, he said. When we reached his old building, I saw what he meant. It was surrounded by double fences topped with razor wire. He told me that some of the other servicemen on base used to think his building was some kind of prison. They never knew what it was for. When I asked him what he had thought those strange sounds had been, back in 1992, before he realized they were whale calls, he said, “I can’t tell you that. It’s classified.”

Back at his house, Joe pulled out a sheaf of papers from his days spent tracking 52 Blue. They were computer maps documenting nearly a decade of migratory patterns, the whale’s journey each season marked by a different color—yellow, orange, purple—in the crude lines of mid-’90s computer graphics. Joe showed me charts of 52’s song and explained the lines and metrics so I could compare its signature with more typical whale noise: the lower frequencies of regular blues, the much higher frequencies of humpbacks. Blue-whale songs hold various kinds of sounds—long purrs and moans, constant or modulated—and 52 Blue’s vocalizations showed these same distinctive patterns, only on a wildly different frequency, one just above the lowest note on a tuba. The brief recorded clip of 52 he played me, sped up for human hearing, sounded ghostly: a reedy, pulsing, searching sound, the aural equivalent of a beam of light murkily visible through thick fog on a moonlit night.

Joe clearly enjoyed explaining his charts and maps. It seemed to have something to do with his love for organization and order. As he proudly showed me the fruits of his various and somewhat surprising hobbies—his impressive collection of carnivorous plants and the bees he raised to feed them, or the pristine musket he’d built from a kit for one of his eighteenth-century fur-trapper rendezvous reenactments—a clear penchant for care and conscientiousness emerged. He had a deep desire to be accurate and meticulous about everything he did. As he showed me the cobra lilies, his favorite plants, he explained how their translucent hoods trick trapped flies into exhausting themselves by flying toward the light—evidently impressed by the economy and ingenuity of their design—and then carefully fixed a frost cloth over their curled green backs to protect them from the cold.

I sensed that Joe enjoyed the chance to pull out his old whale charts. They took him back to the days when the story of 52 was still unfolding, and he was right in the middle of it. Joe told me he’d arrived at Whidbey after several years of what was technically classified as “arduous duty” on a base in Iceland, though he explained that those years weren’t particularly arduous at all; his kids built snowmen by the Blue Lagoon. Joe was a good candidate for Whidbey. He was already trained as an acoustic technician, already prepared for the work that happened in his squat little bunker behind the razor-wire fences.

The hydrophone tracking program—also known as the Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUS—was a bit of a “bastard child,” Joe told me. After the Cold War ended, without Soviet submarines to listen to, the Navy needed more convincing about how the expensive hydrophone array could earn its keep. The work that emerged surprised even the ones who started doing it. Darel Martin, an acoustic technician who worked with Joe at Whidbey, described it like this: “We went from being experts on sharks of steel to tracking living, breathing animals.” He said: “It’s just endless what you can hear out of the ocean.” Now the mystery of one particular whale survives as a man sitting at his kitchen table, pulling out weathered folders to point out the ordinary-looking graph of an extraordinary song.


July 2007, Harlem, New York. Leonora knew she was going to die. Not just someday, but soon. She’d been suffering from fibroids and bleeding for years, sometimes so heavily that she was afraid to leave her apartment. She grew obsessed with blood: thinking about blood, dreaming about blood, writing poems about blood. She stopped working as a case supervisor for the city, a job she’d held for more than a decade. At that point, Leonora was forty-eight years old. She had always been a self-sufficient person; she’d been working since she was fourteen. She’d never been married, though she’d had offers. She liked to know that she could support herself. But this was a new level of isolation. One family member told her, “You are in a very dark place,” and said she no longer wanted to see her.

By summer things had gotten worse. Leonora felt truly ill: relentless nausea, severe constipation, aches across her whole body. Her wrists were swollen, her stomach bloated, her vision blurred with jagged spirals of color. She could hardly breathe when she was lying down, so she barely slept. When she did sleep, her dreams were strange. One night she saw a horse-drawn hearse moving across the cobblestone streets of another century’s Harlem. She picked up the horse’s reins, looked it straight in the eye, and knew it had come for her. She felt so convinced she was going to die that she unlocked her apartment door so her neighbors wouldn’t have trouble removing her body. She called her doctor to tell her as much—I’m pretty sure I’m going to die—and her doctor got pissed, said she needed to call the paramedics, that she was going to live.

As the paramedics were wheeling Leonora away from her apartment on a gurney, she asked them to turn around and take her back so she could lock the door. This was how she knew she’d regained faith in her own life. If she wasn’t going to die, she didn’t want to leave her door unlocked.

That request, asking the paramedics to turn around, is the last thing Leonora can remember before two months of darkness. That night in July was the beginning of a medical odyssey—five days of surgery, seven weeks in a coma, six months in the hospital—that would eventually deliver her, in her own time and her own way, to the story of 52 Blue.


During the years when Joe and Darel were tracking 52 Blue, they worked under the supervision of Bill Watkins, an acoustic expert from Woods Hole who came across the country to Whidbey Island every few months to hear about what they’d found. Everyone who told me about Watkins spoke of him in almost mythic terms. The number of languages he spoke kept changing every time I heard it: six, twelve, thirteen. One of his former research assistants claimed it was twenty. He’d been born to Christian missionaries stationed in French Guinea. According to Darel, Watkins had hunted elephants with his father when he was a kid. “He could actually hear twenty hertz, which is extremely low for any human,” Darel told me. “You and I can’t hear that…but he could actually hear the elephants in the distance. And he would tell his dad which way to go.”

Over the course of his career, Watkins developed much of the technology and methodology that made it possible to record and analyze whale songs: whale tags, underwater playback experiments, location methods. He developed the first tape recorder capable of capturing whale vocalizations.

For Joe and Darel, 52 Blue’s unusual frequency was interesting mainly because it made him easy to track. You could always distinguish his call, so you always knew where he was traveling. Other whales were harder to tell apart, their patterns of motion harder to discern. The possibility of particularity—this whale, among all whales—allowed for an ongoing relationship to 52 as an individual creature, while other whales blurred into a more anonymous collective body.

52’s particularity, as well as his apparent isolation, lent him a certain sheen of personality. “We always laughed when we were tracking him,” Darel told me. “We said, ‘Maybe he’s heading to Baja for the lady blues.’” Darel’s jokes echoed with the familiarity of affectionate condescension, the way frat brothers might talk about the runt of a pledge class who never had much luck with girls: 52 struck out, looked again, tried again. 52 never let up with that song. It was something more than a job. Darel bought his wife a whale necklace during the years he spent tracking 52, and she still wears it.

Joe had his own fixations. “One time he disappeared for over a month,” he said of 52, his inflection registering a mystery that clearly still engaged him. And at the end of the month, when they finally picked him up again, he was farther out in the Pacific than he’d ever been. Why was there that gap? Joe wondered. What had happened during that time?

Watkins was the driving force behind the whale tracking, but he couldn’t keep it running forever. After 9/11, Joe explained, all the money disappeared for good.

As it turned out, however, the saga of 52 was just beginning. After the Woods Hole researchers published their findings about 52 Blue for the first time—in 2004, three years after the funding dried up—they started getting inundated with notes about the whale. Bill Watkins had died a month after the paper was accepted, so it was his former research assistant, a woman named Mary Ann Daher, who found herself receiving this flood of letters. They weren’t typical pieces of professional correspondence. They came, as New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin wrote at the time, “from whale lovers lamenting the notion of a lonely heart of the cetacean world” or from people who identified with the whale for other reasons: because he seemed restless or independent, because he sang his own song.

After Revkin’s story ran that December, headlined “Song of the Sea, a Cappella and Unanswered,” more letters flooded Woods Hole. (One marine-mammal researcher quoted in the story, Kate Stafford, may have inadvertently fanned the flames: “He’s saying, ‘Hey, I’m out here.’ Well, nobody is phoning home.”) These letters came from the heartbroken and the deaf; from the lovelorn and the single; the once bitten, twice shy and the twice bitten, forever shy—people who identified with the whale or hurt for him, ached for whatever set of feelings they projected onto him.

A legend was born: the loneliest whale in the world.

In the years since, 52 Blue—or 52 Hertz, as he is known to many of his devotees—has inspired numerous sob-story headlines: not just “The Loneliest Whale in the World” but “The Whale Whose Unique Call Has Stopped Him Finding Love”; “A Lonely Whale’s Unrequited Love Song”; “There Is One Whale That Zero Other Whales Can Hear and It’s Very Alone: It’s the Saddest Thing Ever, and Science Should Try to Talk to It.” There have been imaginative accounts of a solitary bachelor headed down to the Mexican Riviera to troll haplessly for the biggest mammal babes alive, “his musical mating calls ringing for hours through the darkness of the deepest seas…broadcasting a wide repertory of heartfelt tunes.”

A singer in New Mexico, unhappy at his day job in tech, wrote an entire album dedicated to 52; another singer in Michigan wrote a kids’ song about the whale’s plight; an artist in upstate New York made a sculpture out of old plastic bottles and called it 52 Hertz. A music producer in Los Angeles started buying cassette tapes at garage sales and recording over them with 52’s song, the song that was quickly becoming a kind of sentimental seismograph suggesting multiple story lines: alienation and determination; autonomy and longing; not only a failure to communicate but also a dogged persistence in the face of this failure. People have set up Twitter accounts to speak for him, including @52_Hz_Whale, who gets right to the point:

Hellooooooo?! Yooohoooooo! Is anyone out there? #SadLife

I'm so lonely. :'( #lonely #ForeverAlone


Leonora woke up in St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital in September 2007, in the aftermath of a seven-week coma but still near the beginning of the medical odyssey that would deliver her to 52 Blue. Across the course of five days of surgery, the doctors had removed nearly three feet of her intestines in order to cut out all the necrotic tissue that had rotted around a severe intestinal blockage. Then they’d put her in the coma to help her recover more efficiently. But so much recovery remained ahead of her. She couldn’t walk. She had trouble remembering words, and she could barely speak anyway—her trachea was so scarred from all the tubes that had been thrust down it during her coma. She couldn’t count past ten. She couldn’t even quite count to ten. But she pretended. She didn’t let on. She didn’t want other people to see her struggling.

Leonora had grown up around struggle, raised mostly by her grandmother, a determined and resourceful woman, four feet eleven and blind from diabetes, who’d come to the States from Chennai by way of Trinidad. She’d always told Leonora that her people back in India thought America was full of golden sidewalks. But Leonora remembers the part of Harlem where she grew up, a neighborhood near Bradhurst Avenue, as something of an urban war zone during her high-school years in the mid-’70s, with its own police task force and sky-high murder rates. When Leonora got interested in photography one summer, people started calling her Death Photographer because so many of her subjects ended up as victims of violence.

Leonora was determined to leave, eventually saving enough bartending money to fund a trip to Paris, where she spent a blurry year walking up and down the Boulevard Saint-Michel with a corkscrew in her hand; taking a trip to Capri, where she and a friend met a pair of amorous lifeguards, broke into an abandoned villa, and ate bread and jam off the dusty kitchen table. Back in New York, Leonora met a man she almost married, but when they went to the courthouse, she got such terrible cramps that she had to go to the bathroom and realized it was her body telling her: Don’t do this. She listened. She stayed in the bathroom until the offices closed; a police officer had to get her out.

She got a job as a case manager for the city, working with clients on food stamps or welfare, but grew increasingly isolated in her personal life. By the time she was hospitalized in July 2007, she’d retreated from the world so much that her time in the hospital felt less like an abrupt rupture and more like the continuation of her descent.

For Leonora, the hardest part of the recovery process was losing her self-sufficiency, realizing that she could no longer be independent or take care of herself. As she regained her voice, she started to grow more comfortable asking for what she needed. When she eventually realized the source of a stench she’d grown aware of—that it was her own hair, matted with blood—she demanded that one of the doctors cut it, and it turned out looking pretty good. They joked that the doctor might have a second career as a hairdresser.

During the six months she spent at the hospital and various rehab facilities, Leonora felt abandoned. She didn’t have many visitors. It seemed like everyone in her life was fleeing her damage, pushing her away because they didn’t want to be around her sickness. She assumed her illness made them uncomfortable because it reminded them of their own mortality. When people did visit, she perceived a dark energy coming from them; it nauseated her. When her father came to see her, he told her over and over that she looked like her mother—a woman he hadn’t spoken about in many years. She felt that her illness raised long-buried emotions of anger and loss in him.

Leonora was cut off from others, and from the world itself. She couldn’t even watch television because it gave her headaches. It was late one night, alone and trolling the internet, that she came upon the story of 52 Blue. By then the story of the whale had been floating around the internet for several years. But it resonated for Leonora with a particular urgency. “He was speaking a language that no one else could speak,” she told me. “And here I was without a language. I had no more language to describe what had happened to me…I was like him. I had nothing. No one to communicate with. No one was hearing me. No one was hearing him. And I thought: I hear you. I wish you could hear me.

Like the whale’s, she felt that her own language was adrift. She was struggling to come back to any sense of self, much less find the words for what she was thinking or feeling. The world seemed to be pulling away, and the whale offered an echo of this difficulty. She remembers thinking, I wish I could speak whale. She found a strange kind of hope in the possibility that 52 Blue knew he wasn’t alone. “I was like: Here he is. He’s talking. He’s saying something. He’s singing. And nobody’s really understanding, but there are people listening. I bet he knows people are listening. He must feel it.”


The hunt for an elusive whale is the most famous story in the history of American literature. Hast thou seen the White Whale? But as much as Moby-Dick is about the quest for an animal, or for revenge, it’s also about the quest for metaphor—the attempt to understand what can’t be understood. Ishmael calls the whiteness of the whale “a dumb blankness, full of meaning.” Full of many meanings, actually: divinity and its absence, primal power and its refusal, the possibility of revenge and the possibility of annihilation. “Of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol,” Ishmael explains. “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

When I first began looking into the story of 52 Blue, I reached out to Mary Ann Daher at Woods Hole, hoping she could help me understand how the story of this whale had jumped the bounds of science and become something more like a rallying cry. Her role in the story was curious. She’d become the unwitting confessor for a growing flock of devotees simply because her name was on a paper recounting work for which she’d been a research assistant years before. “I get all sorts of emails,” she told one reporter at the time, “some of them very touching—genuinely; it just breaks your heart to read some of them—asking why I can’t go out there and help this animal.” Eventually the media attention started to grate on her. “It’s been pretty painful,” she told another reporter in 2013. “You name the country and I’ve had a phone call, wanting to get information. And I haven’t worked on this since 2006 or so…and…oh God, [Watkins would] be dismayed, to put it mildly.”

I was eager to speak with Daher anyway. I pictured the two of us at Woods Hole, meeting by the sea, locking eyes, nursing cups of coffee in the salt air. How did it feel to get those letters? I’d ask her. And she’d tell me about the tug on her heart each time, her in-box turned into confessional booth. Perhaps she’d recite one from memory, the one that had moved her the most: He is hope and loss at once. I’d hear some break in her voice, and I’d copy her words. I’d copy the break. I’d make note of her scientific neutrality showing the strain at its seams, nearly torn open by a lonely stranger’s helpless wonder.

It could have gone like that. Perhaps there is another world in which it did. This world, however, holds only her refusal to return my emails. The Woods Hole media-relations representative made it very clear: Daher was done talking about the whale; done refusing to make assumptions about the whale; done correcting other people’s assumptions about the whale. She’d already said everything she had to say.


  • "Jamison has emerged as a definitive chronicler of human connection and the beauty of mundanity...With this brilliant new collection that rigorously interrogates the human condition, Leslie Jamisonaffirms why she's the essayist of the moment."—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
  • "Razor-sharp...Leslie Jamison has been hailed as the newborn lovechild of Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Even for a writer without Jamison's generous helpings of talent and success, it can't be an easy thing to live up to. And yet, she does, and then some...The essays are reported, but also confessional, weaving the realities of disparate others onto Jamison's own experiences to create something rich, human and, at moments, so smart and revealing the reader finds herself gasping."—Samantha Shoech, San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Intelligent and vibrant...Make It Scream, Make It Burn tackles the all-too-human topic of yearning and its oft-corollary, obsession. Both gurgle beneath the writer's sonorous and captivating prose."—Janet Kinosian, Los Angeles Times
  • "A dazzling collection about the outer reaches of human connection...Acute in her analysis and nourishing in her observations, Jamison is at the height of her powers here as she investigates what we owe one another."—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
  • "Lovely and evocative...Most of these essays are heavyweight boxers."—New York Times Book Review
  • "Leslie Jamison's astonishingly formidable, restless intellect has gifted us two monumental works of nonfiction...Here, she turns her exacting eye on subjects such as the loneliest whale in the world and a Croatian museum filled with the effluvia of failed relationships."—O, The Oprah Magazine
  • "A pleasure to read. We can see Jamison let go of her carefully wrought personal narrative and open herself to the unknown."—Sheila McClear, Washington Post
  • "Illuminating and ruminative...Jamison is positively brilliant when penetrating a subject and unraveling its layers of meaning...Fans of the author's unique brand of perceptiveness will be delighted."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Provocative...compassionate, curious and humble...Jamison acknowledges that she has skin in the game, and her wise, urgent writing is stronger for it."—Chris Hewitt, Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "Like the glass in a kaleidoscope, Jamison's fine-tuned attention seems capable of refracting whatever subject it touches. When I finally looked up from the page it was with a renewed sense of wonder."—Cornelia Channing, The Paris Review
  • "These perceptive essays demonstrate that the best-selling author of The Empathy Exams continues to explore the limits of human connections."—Elle
  • "In a full-themed essay collection, Leslie Jamison breaks down doors on love, loss, birth, motherhood and more...The collection boasts joy among the rubble of life's biggest challenges."—Newsweek
  • "Insightful and searching, exciting and staggering. Jamison interweaves memoir, journalism, and cultural criticism into essays that explore topics like motherhood, romance, and relationships."—Good Housekeeping
  • "A masterwork...Leslie Jamison has long been known as a force in American writing for both her intellect and empathy...Jamison draws connections to her own life--a challenging dance that can only be pulled off by the most masterful of writers."—Louis Cheslaw, Condé Nast Traveler
  • "A roaming, wide-ranging collection, grounded through Jamison's lucid, unflinching prose, leading to a singularly empathetic, moving reading experience."—Nylon
  • "As riveting as ever, Jamison's writing elicited within me many of the same responses I felt while reading her previous essay collection, The Empathy Exams: enlightenment, amusement, and of course, empathy itself."—Zakiya Harris, The Rumpus
  • "Jamison is one of my favorite working essayists...[In] Make It Scream, Make It Burn [she] dances between the personal, the critical, and the observational, showing her deftness when it comes to each form."—Jeva Lange, The Week
  • "Richly diverse . . . The pieces in Make It Scream, Make It Burn are all written with care and intricacy, drawing readers in and making us care . . . Jamison's observational skills, genuine empathy, and lack of sentimentality create an intelligent blending of journalism, scholarship, and memoir."—Pam Kingsbury, Library Journal
  • "Leslie Jamison is a master of blending memoir, criticism and journalism...[her] characteristic fusion of the intellectual and emotional is in full force here, cementing comparisons of her work to that of Joan Didion and Susan Sontag."—Christy Lynch, Bookpage
  • "Even as she documents the experiences of others--Sri Lankan soldiers, Second Life superusers, eminent writers and photographers--Jamison is keenly aware of how her personal experiences shape the way she reports their stories. It's this knowledge that propels the collection, along with her rejection of cynicism in favor of being open to new ideas and experiences, no matter how foreign they may seem."—Maris Kreizman, Pacific Standard
  • "To fortify and enlarge the world through eloquence--apt descriptions of Jamison's new collection...Another wonderful book from this gifted writer."—The Millions
  • "Lyrical...There is something distinctly empowering in...Jamison's employment of the self--in [her] collapsing of the theoretical and the experienced."—Katherine Lucky, Commonweal Magazine
  • "Jamison has emerged as a giant in the world of creative nonfiction. She returns with a beautifully compiled collection of essays reflecting on obsession and longing."—Entertainment Weekly
  • "Stunning...Essential...Make It Scream, Make It Burn expands on the efforts of The Empathy Exams...Here we see the territory Jamison's writing inhabits: self-questioning while at the same time empathetic, dubious and credible at once...What Jamison is after is a kind of radical honesty: the ongoing inquiry of a mind at work. That this is not a new issue, but infuses all her writing, is the whole idea...For Jamison, interaction comes with all sorts of risk, not least that in getting close to other people, we can't help but leave ourselves exposed. Still, what other choice do we have? To be human is to be vulnerable."—David L. Ulin, Four Columns
  • "Magnetizing and thought-provoking...An edgy spirit of inquiry, a penchant for sharing personal experiences, and incandescent writing skills make Jamison an exciting premier essayist."—Donna Seaman, Booklist
  • "Leslie Jamison is a writer of supreme eloquence and intelligence who deftly combines journalistic, critical and memoiristic approaches to produce essays that linger long in the memory."—LitHub
  • "Jamison interrogates a variety of fascinating subjects, including her own life, in her praiseworthy second essay collection... Make It Scream, Make It Burn confirms the praise heaped on 2014's The Empathy Exams for her uncanny ability to blend perceptive reportage with intensely personal essays in consistently fresh, dynamic prose."—Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
  • "In her new essay collection, Jamison allows herself to roam beyond the boundaries of one issue, and instead latches her powerful, precise observations to a number of unconventional topics."—Cristina Arreola, Bustle
  • "If you ever need to be reminded of the potential of the essay and why essay collections matter or if you just want to get excited about one, read Leslie Jamison...In Make It Scream, Make it Burn, three of the most poignant and personal essays come in the final section: one on Jamison's own marriage...A brilliant exploration of what it means to be a stepmother...and the last, an essay on giving birth that flips back and forth between Jamison's pregnancy and an eating disorder that marked her earlier experiences of her body."—Goop
  • "If you loved The Empathy Exams and The Recovering, you'll devour Leslie Jamison's new collection of essays about obsession and longing. From thoughts on Civil War photography to a museum dedicated to breakups, her insightful, thought-provoking writing shines brightly throughout."—Yahoo! Lifestyle

On Sale
Sep 24, 2019
Page Count
272 pages

Leslie Jamison

About the Author

Leslie Jamison is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Recovering and The Empathy Exams; the collection of essays Make It Scream, Make It Burn, a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award; and the novel The Gin Closet, a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize. She is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and her work has appeared in publications including The Atlantic, Harper’s, the New York Times Book Review, the Oxford American, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among many others. She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn.

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